Whether or not your divorce will affect your immigration status depends on the stage of the process you’re in. U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) vigilantly watches for possible fraudulent marriages, entered into solely to evade U.S. immigration laws. There are ways to demonstrate your marriage was entered into in good faith, but their effectiveness depends on your stage in the process.

Application for a visa or green card

If your application for a green card has not yet been reviewed or approved and you are applying on the basis of your marriage to an american citizen or permanent resident, your divorce or annulment will end the immigration process. No evidence of marriage in good faith will help at this early stage.

Conditional resident with 2-year green card

If you’ve been approved for a green card but you had not already been married for at least two years, you will receive a 2-year conditional residence. In two years you will be expected to submit Form I-751, asking USCIS to approve your permanent residence. This form is intended to be signed jointly by both spouses, but if you’ve gotten divorced or annulled, you’ll need to file a waiver of the joint filing process.

This, of course, will raise flags, and USCIS will scrutinize your case for evidence of a fraudulent marriage. You will need to provide ample and convincing evidence that you entered into marriage in good faith. It is still possible to get approved for permanent status at this point, but you may want to hire a lawyer expert in immigration and marriage law to help you present the best case.

Permanent resident status applying for citizenship

The N-400 Form is the application for naturalization. Normally a permanent resident must wait five years before applying for citizenship. A person with a green card who has been married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years can apply in three years, as long as the person remains married up to the time of naturalization. If the marriage ends before naturalization, the process stops, but the permanent resident is still able to apply within the five-year period.

Keep in mind that whenever anyone submits the N-400 Form, USCIS will scrutinize the person’s file. If you’ve gotten divorced in that time, fresh evidence should be submitted demonstrating that you married in good faith.

Evidence for marriage in good faith

It’s important to know what USCIS flags as signs of a fraudulent marriage in order to know what kinds of evidence will show yours was a true marriage.

Warning signs to USCIS of a fraudulent marriage include: wide disparity of age; individuals not cohabitating; marriage upon warning of removal; friend of the family; american spouse previously helping people apply for residence; major differences in ethnic or cultural backgrounds; inconsistent answers in separate interviews.

Knowing what USCIS looks for, you can show that you and your spouse engaged in the kinds of behaviors that spouses normally engage in: documents with both names on them (mortgage or rent, joint bank accounts); pictures from your wedding, family get-togethers, parties, and vacations; cards or letters from friends or family addressed to both of you; documents or bills in your name showing your address matching your spouse’s address; birth certificates for your joint children; affidavits from reliable people in support of your marriage. In this case, a statement from a marriage counselor indicating you tried to work out your problems is particularly strong.

If you’ve been divorced and you’re still working toward american citizenship, contact an attorney knowledgeable in immigration and marriage law to help you present the best case to keep your process moving forward.

While it is common and even preferable for a divorcing couple to utilize the same attorney in mediation, there are clear guidelines that generally prevent one spouse from hiring the other spouse’s former attorney in a trial divorce case.

The american Bar Association (ABA) Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) rule 1.7 states: 

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:

(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer. (RPC rule 1.7: Conflict of Interest: Current Clients) 

Rule 1.9 of the same code states the following:

(a) A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.

(b) A lawyer shall not knowingly represent a person in the same or a substantially related matter in which a firm with which the lawyer formerly was associated had previously represented a client

(1) whose interests are materially adverse to that person; and

(2) about whom the lawyer had acquired information protected by Rules 1.6 and 1.9(c) that is material to the matter; unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.

(c) A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter or whose present or former firm has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter:

(1) use information relating to the representation to the disadvantage of the former client except as these Rules would permit or require with respect to a client, or when the information has become generally known; or

(2) reveal information relating to the representation except as these Rules would permit or require with respect to a client. (RPC rule 1.9: Duties to Former Clients)

Therefore, the RPC code of the ABA clearly lays out that a lawyer cannot represent your spouse in your divorce case, not only if he or she has represented you, but also if the lawyer’s current or previous firm has represented you in this case.

Further, a lawyer who has represented you or whose firm has represented you in the past in any way cannot represent your spouse in other matters, without your written consent, and may not use any information collected during your representation to your detriment.

Changing divorce lawyers is not uncommon. Often, in a time of great stress, a person chooses a divorce lawyer hastily or at the recommendation of another person without doing thorough review. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personalities not clicking. Whatever your reason for changing your lawyer, be sure to retain a new lawyer first, so that you are not without representation for a moment. Once you’ve signed the agreement with your new lawyer, inform the other in writing and request your file be sent to the new attorney by a given date.

If you have any questions, contact us here at Ulmer Legal and Mediation Services to see how we can help you.

When couples begin the divorce process, all assets and liabilities need to be listed and valued in order to determine division between the spouses. Negotiation often involves one spouse being given certain assets in exchange for other assets of the same value – and greater need or emotional attachment are values along with cost that can be weighed in the negotiation process.

If a couple can settle out of court with the help of qualified divorce lawyers to ensure a fair and satisfying distribution between both parties, the couple maintains control over their own assets and their own preferences. However, if they cannot come to an agreement, the divorce must go to court and the division of assets is put into the hands of a judge.

Pennsylvania is an Equitable Distribution state, which means the judge does not necessarily divide property 50/50 but rather in a manner that seems fair. Therefore, when determining who gets what, including the vehicles, the judge will consider many factors.

Was the car owned and paid for completely before marriage by one spouse? It is almost assured that the owner will be awarded the car. Was the car purchased after marriage, but it’s in one spouse’s name and that spouse’s money was used to pay for the car or the loans? Chances are very likely that this spouse will receive the car, although other factors could come into play.

Who has greater need for the car? If there is only one car, who needs it to commute to work because there are no public transportation options available? If there are multiple cars, who needs the van to take the kids to school, or who needs the newer car for a long and difficult commute? All these individual factors weigh into the judge’s decision.

The car’s value is also taken into consideration. If the family has two vehicles and one is worth significantly more than the other, the judge will likely award the cars based on need, circumstances, and payment history, but may also award additional compensation to the spouse receiving the car with less value in order to balance the asset division.

If a car is awarded to you in a divorce settlement, be sure to change the title and owner immediately to yourself. If a balance is owed on a loan, the loan should be restructured or refinanced to have only your name on it.

Your divorce attorney will walk you through the many intricacies and details involved in the divorce process and starting over. Reach out to us here at Ulmer Law to see how we can help you.

In Pennsylvania, there are several ways that real property (i.e. houses) may be titled. When two or more people own property together, they should be aware of the manner in which the property is owned:

Tenants in Common – When property is owned as tenants in common, each owner owns a certain percentage of the property. Usually, this ownership is equally divided, but can be altered on the deed itself. If you own real estate in this manner, you can do as you please with your share. For example, you can sell your interest in the property, or you can leave it to a friend or family member in your will. When you pass away, your share is distributed through the probate process, and not necessarily to the owners who survive you. Even though all owners own a percentage of the property, they all have the right to enjoyment and possession of the property.

Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship – When property is owned this way, all owners have the right to enjoyment and possession of the property. However the property passes directly to the survivor(s) upon the death of one of the owners. The owners may not sell or gift their portion of the property without consent of the other owners.

Tenants by the Entirety – This is similar to Joint Tenants, except that the owners must be married to each other. This form of ownership may be dissolved upon death or divorce of either spouse. If it is due to divorce, the ownership reverts to Tenants in Common.

A guardian can be appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of an adult individual who has been deemed incapacitated or incapable of making sound decisions on their own. The court must determine whether the individual for whom guardianship is sought can adequately manage their financial resources and/or meet basic essential requirements for their own health and safety. If you are the party filing for guardianship, the first step is to file a petition with the court. A hearing will be scheduled after review of the petition establishing a potential need. The petitioner (filing party) should secure expert testimony to corroborate the extent of the incapacity of the subject individual and the necessity for a guardian as the Petitioner has the burden to prove incapacity by clear and convincing evidence. At least ten (10) days prior to any scheduled hearing, notice of the hearing and a copy of the petition must be served on the individual for whom guardianship is sought (Respondent) explaining in plain language the possible ramifications of the forthcoming legal proceedings. Notice must also be given to any additional interested parties such as other family members or individuals that could serve as guardian.

In addition to a determination as to whether a guardian should be appointed, the court can also dictate what type of guardianship. Limited guardianship is appropriate where the Respondent is not totally incapacitated and is capable of managing some aspects of their life. In this case, the court must delineate what powers the Petitioner will have versus what rights the Respondent retains for themselves. Plenary guardianship grants Petitioner all rights as it relates to safeguarding the best interests of the Respondents. This would be appropriate for a Respondent who is totally incapacitated. The court must also indicate the duration of the guardianship with the court responsible to reassess the ongoing need for a guardian. The appointed guardian must act for the best interests of the Respondent and file a report each year with the court regarding the ongoing care of the Respondent. The Respondent or any other interested party can petition the court to modify or terminate the guardianship if circumstances change or if the appointed guardian is not acting appropriately.

All interested parties, including natural parent(s), shall receive proper notice of pending termination and/or adoption proceedings. A copy of the relevant petition and subsequent hearing notice should be served on all interested parties, e.g. persons with parental rights to the minor child(ren) involved. Acceptable methods of service include personal service or certified mail, return receipt requested, restricted delivery. Proof of service should be filed with the court and/or submitted at the time of the hearing.

If you do not have a good address for an interested party, you can petition the court to permit service by an alternate method. Often, the alternate method of service permitted is publication in the newspaper where the party was last known to reside. The court would indicate for how many weeks the notice must be published in the newspaper. The newspaper provides a certification as to the publication that can be submitted to the court as verification that the required publication was completed. This adds to the costs of the termination or adoption matter as it can cost several hundred dollars to publish. You should also be careful to include all necessary information in the publication so that the court can accept the publication as acceptable service.

Termination of parental rights means the natural parent of a child forever loses or forfeits any rights as a parent. This would include the loss of any standing for future custody actions. Termination of parental rights can generally only occur in conjunction with an adoption matter or involvement by a local social services agency. Pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511, there are nine (9) grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights. Several of the grounds available relate to crimes committed by the parents. For example, rights may be terminated if the parent(s) have committed child abuse or neglect. This can result in a criminal charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

Rights may also be terminated in connection with rape. Specifically, whether the parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of a rape or incest. Either parent can lose their rights if convicted of any of the following offenses in which the victim was a child of the parent: criminal homicide, aggravated assault, a comparable crime in a different jurisdiction, or any attempt/conspiracy to commit the above. The party seeking termination must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s actions meet at least one of the grounds for termination as listed in the statute.

First, it is required by law. In accordance with Title 11 US Code Section 109(h)1, in order to be a debtor and file a Bankruptcy Petition a person must have in the 180 days before filing the petition completed received a certificate of compliance that they have completed pre-filing counseling with an approved agency. A debtor is also required to complete pre-discharge debtor education after you file. Both are required before the filer’s debts can be discharged however the pre-filing counseling must be completed before filing.

Second, avoid filing. Only credit counseling organizations and debtor education course providers that have been approved by the U.S. Trustee Program can provide these Certificates of Completion. Not all programs are the same. Many are just a rubber stamp to move you along to the filing however this provision was made a part of the law for a very important reason that people miss. If you attend credit counseling from a good program, they may be able to help you and you will NOT have to file for bankruptcy at all. Credit counseling agencies are designed to try to work with creditors to consolidate your debt. If you fit as a candidate for a credit counseling program, you will make one monthly payment and the credit counseling agency will pay something to each of your creditors until they are paid off. They will also work to try to stop the bleeding of the interest accumulation. Credit counseling agencies do a thorough budget process to find out if you have any disposable income to be part of the debt program. If not, you may need to resort to a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 however many people do fit the program.

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Third, financial health. Although, being part of a debt consolidation program does appear on your credit report, it is not considered to have the same negative effects as filing a bankruptcy. If you are not a candidate for a credit counseling program and you do need to file a Bankruptcy petition, the hope is with completion of these programs you will be able to avoid being in these situations again. If you qualify for a Chapter 7 and you discharge all your debts, the worst thing that can happen is to be right back in the same spot a few years later. The pre-discharge debtor education helps people identify the reasons that they ended up in this spot. It gives great tips for financial health and budgeting processes that can help individuals stay on track. All of this information, if strongly considered, can get you going and staying on the right path.

Bottomline don’t discount the reasons why the law made this a requirement. If you want to find out more information about what would be considered a good credit counseling program as well as more information about Bankruptcy in general, make an appointment to talk to one of our attorneys.